Asana's mission to "help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly" is particularly evident in their design process. We sat down with Micah Daigle, Product Designer at Asana, and chatted about changing the world through design, championing the “we-paradigm”, and turning hardship into wisdom.
Hey Micah, thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Tell us briefly about Asana and your role there.
Sure – Asana is essentially a set of smart, shared task lists for your team. It lets everyone know exactly who’s working on what and ties conversations directly to those tasks, rather than asking you to sort through piles of emails to figure it out. We’re a company committed to making a positive impact on the world, and we think the best way to do that is by enabling people to collaborate effortlessly. I’m on a team of seven talented product designers currently working on a number of new features, as well as a redesign of our web app.
Before Asana, you spent a lot of your career on politically-charged causes. How important is it, do you feel, for designers to work on projects that will impact the world in some greater way?
Well, taking a pretty broad definition of it, design is finding something broken with the world and figuring out how to fix it. Our job is all about finding friction and alleviating it. For the first part of my career, I was focused on the friction caused by broken policies and societal norms that make it hard for certain people to live their lives. I think, like any other kind of design, it started with empathy – feeling people’s pain. That led me to then try and find the flaws in the system that created that pain and fix them. Design, as a discipline, is not limited to pushing pixels around a screen.
What I love about InVision is that it allows you to prototype interaction in a way that static mock-ups don’t.
Eventually, I got burned out on politics and moved out to San Francisco. I found that a lot of the entrepreneurs I was meeting had a similar mindset to the activists I had known. Rather than accepting the traditional path through life, they had decided to spend a lot of their time and energy on fixing something that they thought was broken. Entrepreneurship & activism are two sides of the same coin. Ultimately, they’re about changing things for the better.
Do you feel that design can make a true difference in the world?
Absolutely. I think design can & does change the world, but we have to ask if it’s changing it for the better. Your solution may solve a problem, but it may also create several more that you hadn’t foreseen. We’ve encountered that with Asana. For instance, we try to solve the problem of e-mail overload, but we also need to ensure we don’t create the problem of Asana overload. We don’t want to give people yet another inbox that’s always full. Change is a wonderful thing, but as change-makers, we need to recognize that the changes we make can be counterproductive.
What does your process for crafting new features at Asana look like?
Every project starts off as a set of goals and hypotheses. My job is to solve users’ problems by validating my design intuition with the hard data from our metrics and research teams. How that plays out depends on the scope of the goals. On the Growth Team, our goal is to increase adoption of the product, and it’s very experimental from the outset. Our hypothesis will be “users will adopt the product more if we make it easier to do X". We’ll then run a number of experiments to test that hypothesis and gather data. It’s a very iterative process.
The most successful people that I know are able to transform the pain, the hardship, the heartache in their lives into wisdom and lessons for the future.
On larger features, we tend to have a good sense that users want what we're building, so experimentation is used more to validate the details rather than the feature itself. We’ll do lots of user research and get feedback from people in the company before starting to design and iterate. Then, once engineers code the designs, we spot check them for quality, ship them to beta customers, iterate with their feedback, and finally release to the rest of the world!
And how does InVision fit into your process?
What I love about InVision is that it allows you to prototype interaction in a way that static mock-ups don’t. I’ve been using it a lot recently with the design of our sign-up experience.
When you sign up for Asana, there’s a decision tree that you go through that can branch off in a variety of different directions, depending on the kind of workspace you’re setting up. Being able to walk people through the process using InVision has been very helpful.
How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet?
Well, the most successful system that we know of is life – a biological system that learns to transform the things that could potentially kill it into the things that make it thrive. The evolutionary process of life on earth benefits from the death of organisms. As weaker organisms die out, you get creatures better evolved to survive on this planet. At a large enough dose, the forces that threaten life could kill everything on Earth, but life has learned to turn those threats, and even death itself, into a strength.
So it is with us - Successful people have learned to turn their sufferings into strengths. The most successful people that I know are able to transform the pain, the hardship, the heartache in their lives into wisdom and lessons for the future.
As designers, we have to keep questioning what we do. Is my work contributing to a better-designed world? Am I making a world I'd want to live in?
Where do you see the future of technology & design and our place within it?
I think that right now in the tech industry, where we’re seeing two types of thinking: The Me-paradigm and the We-paradigm. The Me-paradigm is that desire to obtain as much money and power as possible. There are people in Silicon Valley who create businesses just so that they can later cash out, and I think that’s where the bubble that everybody’s talking about lies. Those in the We-paradigm, however, just want to leave the world a better place than they found it. For them, money is just fuel for the rocket – a means to an end. And I don’t think that that’s a bubble; that’s our future.
It would be easy for the tech world to automate everything and put everybody out of work. But we could also use that technology to free up time for people to pursue the things they really love. As innovators, we must improve lives not just for us innovators but for the rest of the world too. However, I personally don’t think that can happen within our current economic structure, because it’s founded on an idea that every person needs to work 40 hours per week to live. The goal of innovation should be to make the world work for 100% of humanity. We need to ensure that we’re moving towards that future.
And, looking to that future, what are the skills that you think designers will need?
I think designers need to recognize that design is more than moving things around on a screen. Design is an orientation you take to the world. You can use that orientation to affect government, our economy, anything. There are so many large systems in place today that are up for a redesign. I think, as designers, we have to keep questioning what we do. Is my work contributing to a better-designed world? Am I making a world I'd want to live in?
Because design really is changing the world right now. People are starting to realize that experience is everything. If you’re good at crafting experiences, you get to decide what experiences really need fixing in the world, and you get to work on fixing them. Don’t waste that opportunity!"Empathy led me to try and find the flaws in the system that created that pain and fix them."
Photography by Peter Prato.